East Allen Township resident Josh Smith was brought up in the firehouse with his dad being a fireman at the East Allen Township Volunteer Fire Department for over 30 years.
Growing up in the fire service, Josh knew he wanted to be a fireman when he grew up and officially started working at the fire station at just 13 years old. In fact, this May will mark his twentieth year as a firefighter at East Allen Township.
Josh even became the East Allen Township Fire Department Fire Chief in 2021, a lifelong dream that he is proud of.
However, since East Allen Fire Department is volunteer based, Josh also works full-time for the Harrisburg International Airport Fire Department and part-time with the Emmaus Fire Department. Getting hired as a career firefighter is one of Josh’s proudest moments and he admits that he still gets excited when the pager goes off for fire calls.
As a fire chief, Josh has to manage the fire department operationally and is in charge of fire calls, training, and writing policies behind the scenes, as well as being in charge of incidents. Depending on staffing levels, he can hand his hat off to someone else during incidents like mutual aid calls where there is another fire chief on scene, and just be a fireman, which is what he really enjoys.
Josh shared that the majority of the general public doesn’t know that all of the firefighters at East Allen Fire Department are volunteers. In this economy, the volunteer side of firefighting has really taken a hit because many people are working multiple jobs to make ends meet and don’t have the time to devote to being a volunteer firefighter.
This has created some problems with staffing and requires firefighters to sometimes perform multiple tasks or roles that would otherwise be done by two or more firefighters, such as throwing up the portable ground ladder, which is normally done with two people. However, if there are only two people riding on the fire truck, then this becomes a one-man job, Josh explains.
Due to these staffing shortages, the East Allen Fire Department has been considering creating an incentive or stipend program to attract new people and staff the fire station. One of the options they are considering is a live-in type of program for college kids, which they can hopefully start this year or next.
Coming from home, volunteer firefighters can delay the response five to ten minutes in some cases, especially with traffic in the area.
“If everyone is at home, they have to drive to the fire station, get their gear on, jump in the truck, and go on the call. It’s a lot better having people at the station because response times are reduced,” Josh discloses.
Another challenging part of his job as a fire chief involves managing different personalities, which is often harder than the actual job.
“We all go through hundreds of hours of training to deal with an emergency that becomes second nature when we respond to calls, but back at the station, dealing with membership issues or when someone does something wrong and dealing with those personalities, that’s actually more challenging,” Josh describes.
Some of the most rewarding things about being a firefighter for Josh are when he hears about good outcomes of certain incidents like bad motor vehicle accidents, when people stop by the firehouse to say thank you, and when kids ask to take pictures with the firefighters and the fire trucks.
Additionally, Josh explains that one of the things he loves most about his job as a fireman is the brotherhood and sisterhood that the job creates and the people that come along the way, creating bonds and friendships that last a lifetime.
However, being a fire chief also involves a fair share of politics or “volatics” as Josh calls them on the volunteer side, which requires him to deal with the township, township officials, and different personalities in the fire station.
“Working with everyone to come to a common agreement can be difficult. It’s easier to just be a fireman than deal with all the other stuff that comes with it,” Josh adds.
In terms of advice for individuals thinking about becoming a firefighter or that are just starting out, Josh says: “Take the leap, give it a shot, and don’t hesitate. Take the chance because if you don’t like it, you can always back out. You’ll be thankful for the lasting friendships that you make over time.”
To sum up firefighting, Josh shares that “it’s just fun” because of the excitement, adrenaline rush, and because “you never know what you’re going to see.”
Individuals interested in donating to the East Allen Township Fire Department can do so through their website: eastallenfire.org.
The volunteer fire service is struggling for firefighters. Interested applicants can go to the East Allen Township Fire Department Facebook page, website, or stop by the firehouse Monday nights around 7 p.m. to fill out an application.
The Home News is seeking essential workers in the community to interview for the ongoing feature, Noteworthy Neighbors. Emergency responders, teachers, local government, bus drivers, veterans, farmers, etc.; if you do essential work for a living, we want to hear from you. If you are interested in being interviewed and sharing with the community the work that you do, please email AskUs@HomeNewsPA.com.